by Sharon Tucker
As this official holiday for lovers (and anti-holiday for singletons) now approaches, are you planning a sumptuous dinner with champagne followed by a molten chocolate extravaganza for dessert? If so, good for you! Celebration of this holiday is highly individual, perhaps never more so than by authors’ writing murder mysteries centered on or around it. So pick up one or more of these Valentine-themed mysteries by Rendell, Meier and McLeish and relax, sit back and enjoy.
The most grisly Valentine salutation of these three novels concerns the murders of four members of a family on Valentine’s Day and is the central event of Ruth Rendell’s 1977 novel, A Judgment in Stone. Since the what, who and why of the murders are revealed as a fait accompli in the novel’s first line, what continues to engage the reader is how the tale of the Coverdale family unwinds. Their housekeeper and murderer, Eunice Parchman, had a shameful secret that the Coverdales, cocooned in their elegance and privilege were too blind or oblivious to notice, but one of the story’s central ironies lies in what clues investigators in to Parchman’s crimes and their solution. Even though this is not a Wexford mystery and the world of the novel eschews the charm of Agatha Christie, Rendell’s plots have enough twists and turns to engage the reader thoroughly.
On a lighter and ostensibly cozier note, because corpses keep turning up, Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone is planning to start celebrating Valentine’s Day by attending her first Tinker’s Cove Library Board meeting as Valentine Murder begins. In this fifth novel in the Lucy Stone series, she discovers the body of Bitsy Howell, the town’s librarian, who has failed to show up for story hour, a duty she loathed anyway. As Stone and the small Maine town of Tinker’s Cove try to come to terms with the crime, she begins to learn that the librarian was an inveterate gossip who spread unfounded and unpleasant rumors about the library patrons she served. A financial scandal involving the library board and the disappearance of the town’s priceless and symbolic antique housed in the library are only a few of the tangles Stone must unravel as she and her family find themselves plagued by specious accidents that the local police prefer to ignore.
By way of contrast, in Dougal McLeish’s The Valentine Victim, the Ontario Provincial Police detachment of the village of Farnham is quick to call in Inspector John Rodericks of the Criminal Investigation Department in the aftermath of a prominent local woman’s report that a stalker is following her two step-daughters. Even as Mrs. Weston sits in the police station in the act of alerting the local constables, one of her stepdaughters is fatally shot in their home as both girls are getting dressed to attend a Valentine party. So much of the evidence in the case fails to make sense and so many of the questions surrounding the murder have no answers. Relationships between the principles are unclear and who would benefit from the death(s) is murky. But happily, McLeish’s novel engages the reader in the world of a Canadian winter in the late 1960s, making provincial isolation and forbearance characters in the narrative.
What does “Be My Valentine” mean to you? From one person it is an entreaty and from another it’s an imperative but why not view the holiday as an excuse to be decadent and enjoy whatever indulgence strikes your fancy? Bake cookies, cook a gourmet meal, enjoy a night on the town or choose one or more of these mysteries to celebrate yet another St. Valentine’s Day.
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